Choosing five favourite books is a hard task. Since I was a child, and my parents ran a second-hand bookstore, allowing me access to anything I wanted to read, I have been an avid reader. Both my parents loved to read too and it was quite normal for all of us to sit among stacked up boxes of books, reading together.
Since those bookish days of my childhood I have discovered many favourite novelists and poets. There are so many books that mean a great deal to me and I am always adding to my ‘best books’ list. But in the interests of narrowing things down, here are a few of my all time favourites.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Penniless young Tess is sent by her father to visit a rich relative, hoping this connection with nobility might change their family fortunes. It turns out the relative is no relation at all but this mistaken connection sparks off terrible events which will change Tess’s life forever. Thomas Hardy was also a poet and his ability to describe the natural world is breathtaking. He created characters that remain as real and as affecting today as they did to his 19th century readers. Every time I read this novel, I find new aspects of it to marvel at.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. This is a story of slavery in America. It concerns the men and women of a plantation called Sweet Home, which is anything but sweet. It is also the story of Sethe and her love for her child, and the lengths she will go to in the name of that love. Beloved is a novel of memories, of stories to be laid down, and stories not to be passed on. Written in sweeping lyrical prose, it is a gripping story. The kind of book I can take off the shelf and find myself, an hour later, still standing there, reading it, unaware of time passing.
Any Human Heart by William Boyd. The novel relates the story of an Englishman called Logan Mountstuart. Presented as his diaries, we start at his birth in 1906 and continue to his death in France aged 85 in 1991. The novel is an utterly convincing portrayal of a man and his life through the changing twentieth century. Heartwarming and tragic in turns, I lose myself in this book every time I pick it up.
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. I have always loved this Edwardian classic for its joyous storytelling and its wonderful depictions of rural life and nature. The characters are glorious: Ratty, Mole, Badger and the fabulous Mr Toad. They live by a river and their adventures are a delight to read. The river is a whole other character too, a river that, as Mole says, carries, “a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”
Tinkers by Paul Harding. This slim, perfect little book touched my heart the first time I read it. It took Paul Harding ten years to write and is his debut novel. Tinkers won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in America and I am glad it got the recognition it deserved. It is the simple and graceful story of a dying man remembering his life and his father. Harding’s prose is poetic, full of dazzling imagery and written with love, warmth and a tremendous sense of humanity.
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